NAYPYIDAW: Children in conflict with the law will have their rights protected by the International Legal Foundation (ILF) and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Myanmar.
The partnership followed the implementation of the nation’s Child Rights Law which came into effect in July, according to The Myanmar Times.
Funded by the European Union initiative “Protecting children affected by migration in Southeast, South, and Central Asia”, the project focused on diverting children away from the criminal justice system and promoting alternatives to their detention.
Unicef Myanmar and the ILF would train defence lawyers and other justice stakeholders on child-friendly justice as well as set defence standards for juveniles.
They would also facilitate increased cooperation between police, prosecutors, judges and social service providers to divert cases concerning minors away from courts and connect children with appropriate community support to promote alternatives to incarceration.
Jennifer Smith, executive director of the ILF, underscored the importance of having skilled lawyers to defend children accused of crimes.
“Children need strong and skilled defenders to fight for them from the earliest possible moment after arrest, and their cases must be handled differently from adults,” she said.
The new law raised the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 10 years.
The law stated that detention of children should be a last resort and called for alternative means of punishment for juveniles.
The authorities currently detain children awaiting trial, and there is a lack of expertise in the area of child development.
There was also a need to design and implement mechanisms for alternative sentencing.
“Myanmar’s Child Rights Law provides new protections for children in conflict with the law, but there needs to be a collaborative effort to implement those protections.
“The majority of children detained in Myanmar do not have a lawyer to defend them. That is why we are committed to expanding access to high-quality legal aid and providing specialised training in juvenile justice,” Smith added.
Jane Kunugi of Unicef Myanmar said the partnership would support children who clashed with the law and get them back on track towards leading safe and positive lives.
“Conditions of violence, poverty, mental health issues and other social and developmental challenges can cause children to come into conflict with the law, and unfortunately, there aren’t enough specialised lawyers to defend children.”
With close to 70 years of experience working in Myanmar, Unicef is convening a variety of justice stakeholders and community partners to promote progress on child protection.
The ILF has significant expertise in developing quality standards for criminal defence and building legal aid systems in post-conflict and transitioning countries, with a strong focus on juvenile justice and child rights.
Together, the ILF and Unicef Myanmar pledged to work closely with government agencies, officials, lawyers, and civil society groups to realise Myanmar’s promise of ensuring the protection of children’s rights.